Saturday, July 25, 2020

The Art of Being Unproductive

In these times of surreality, I'm trying to remember how I somehow muscled my way through my generally unbalanced life. With plenty of naps and no structure, it seems like my productivity should have skyrocketed during the quarantine. Instead, I've barely dribbled out a few thousand words on various writing projects and have yet to reach any goals related to reading, running, or studying, not that I'm in school or anything, just glancing over some textbooks for the hell of it or "should" be.


I wrote that first paragraph during the shutdown and wasn't sure where I was going with it. Now I'm back at work with different hours but the same amount of time away from home. I'm pretty sure I started the post with the intent of reminding people that it's OK to lower expectations and not be exceptionally productive, especially under stress, but since I lost my way with the original post, I decided to go ahead and completely switch paths. The title no longer fits, but I'll leave it.

Over the years, I haven't been as involved with the eating disorder recovery community as I once was. It feels saturated with a few loud voices at the top and many deserving but mostly unheard voices everywhere else. Despite the increase in available information about recovery and an increase in the number of people attempting to grab a platform, I still see a lot of bad advice presented. I've stopped looking at "health" and diet culture on Instagram altogether. I will never care about the macros someone else eats, and seeing images of high-protein or vegan glop served on a plate or in a bowl or blended with other ingredients and served in a glass will never inspire me. It's probably because there's little to no joy in that kind of food. I don't need to see your every unimpressive breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Great if that shit brings you and other people pleasure. It's just not for me. If I'm looking for some food inspiration, I'd much rather watch a video put out by Sarah Kosca and her daughter because why not bring some elegance, creativity, humor, and fun into food preparation?

Blatant unhealthy or triggering social media accounts aside, I have seen some of the worst content coming from people who probably think what they're doing is inspiring or helpful. Some missteps I have encountered recently are listed below:

1. Pinching your thigh or other body part and showing that even athletes or thin people have cellulite doesn't help anyone.

What the hell? I mean, why do this? If you're doing this publicly, either you have no clue how absolutely unhelpful this is, how potentially triggering it could be to someone struggling, or you yourself have body issues. I never, ever need to see anyone grab her thigh to point out cellulite. The only action this will inspire in me is repeatedly banging my head against a hard object.

Maybe instead of grabbing body parts to expose "flaws" as one person put it, you could try focusing on, oh, I don't know, a fucking book you read, the weather, the places your legs can take you, performance, health, or anything else, really. If you have a problem with your cellulite or want to show it off to everyone, that's your business, but don't think that doing so is going to be helpful to anyone. It's not. At best people don't give a shit. At worst, you're causing stress in someone's life who will compare her legs to yours and may start to assume the worst about her own body.

2. Stop calling yourself a "big" runner when you're not.

I'm not sure if it's a body dysmorphic thing or what, but I see a lot of lean runners calling themselves big. I even saw one runner who has continually placed herself in the "bigger" category show off countless images of herself indicating that she is no bigger and has almost always been the same size or smaller than her competitors. Claiming you're larger than you are is unhelpful. Imagine being an actual bigger runner or larger person while watching a thin, elite runner call herself big. It's worthless to focus on size anyway when racing is about performance, but many athletes draw unnecessary attention to the female body by talking about size. Your size is irrelevant to how someone else will perform. The same kinds of comparisons happen as with the situation above. It's just not helpful, at all. People have eyes and don't need to be told stories about what they're supposed to be seeing over what they actually see. Focus on you, and if you have a distorted view of yourself, ask for some guidance from a professional.

3. Don't offer advice when you're not qualified and know nothing about a person's history and health background.

I see this way too often. I'm not talking big generalizations like most bloggers tend to do; I'm talking direct answers to specific questions posed by a specific individual. If you don't know about a person's health and background, there is absolutely no way to know if that person is healthy, and, unless you have a medical degree, you are not qualified to answer questions pertaining to his or her health.

Years ago, a runner posted a Q & A on a blog that was rather horrifying. A fan asked about losing weight before a big competition. There was no mention of his or her current weight or if anyone suggested the weight-loss, only that there was this desire to lose weight. The one posing the question admitted being prone to stress fractures, too. Without knowing jack shit about this individual, the blogger started off sensibly and then quickly veered into what-the-fuck territory by musing that maybe this individual only needed to lose a few pounds... or maybe more than 10 in order to run well. Here's a thought, what if weight-loss wasn't the answer at all? I admit that the overall sentiment was probably not harmful or at least not meant to be, but it only takes a few lines of triggering content to possibly lead someone who's reading the exchange, including the one posing the question, in the wrong direction.

This is a great example of someone meaning well but being completely unqualified to answer this type of question. Are you a doctor? Do you have a degree in nutrition science? No? Then shut the fuck up. There is zero need to go into how much better you might run if you lose weight, especially when you don't know what the person weighs or anything about this individual. The focus should have been entirely on running and performance goals, strength, and balance. It's uncomfortable for me to see anyone in the running community go into fantasy success stories about weight-loss and running better knowing that there may be young athletes reading the content. Weight-loss alone never leads to running success. You still have to do the training, and you can't do that if you're not fueling your body, period. That's all that needed to be said. Jesus Christ, so many people have a God complex, thinking they can play online doctor, coach, therapist, and general know-it-all in every situation.

4. Male coaches aren't the sole problem when it comes to the abuse of young athletes.

I know I'm not alone in thinking this. Other runners and athletes have already pointed out that female coaches can be just as much of a threat to the well-being of an athlete as their male counterparts. Additionally, there are deeper issues at play when it comes to the broken systems in the athletic community. Replacing male coaches or adding more female coaches won't solve issues of abuse if deeper issues and false narratives are ignored. I and others have already gone over some ideas around potential ways to address abuse, educate athletes about what abuse looks like, and provide a safe space for athletes to open up and share concerns, so I won't repeat myself here. I just see too many people trying to solve problems that have been going on for decades by focusing on a single issue, not the big picture. Doing this isn't likely to fix what's broken.

5. Girls are not women and visa versa.

It's not so much that I or most people get upset if someone slips and calls women girls. It's generally not a huge deal as long as calling a woman a girl isn't meant to be insulting or belittling, as in she, an adult, is immature or not as competent as a man, but if it's simply describing gender and the person speaking uses boys and girls as descriptors, one can hopefully see it's not meant to be offensive.

The bigger issue is when coaches or other adults treat young girls as if they are women who can handle more emotional and physical stress than youngsters may be ready for. This may be obvious when it comes to actual children, but athletes who are teens are also not mature adults.

Too often, people apply adult thinking to situations involving teens and children. If you're an adult addressing a situation that involves a child and start out by saying, "I would just..." stop yourself. Just don't go there. Consider the different types of stressors children face. When it comes to abuse, it's even more unbelievable that people on the outside expect a child to speak up or face her abuser in the moment. That's why it's important to provide outside checks for young athletes, a way for them to feel safe about opening up about general concerns and abuses.

Some helpful resources:
Safe Sport:
Rachael Steil:
Child Help:

A lot of this is nothing new. I and others have expressed similar sentiments before, but I keep coming back to the fact that too many individuals are throwing themselves in positions of authority without having the much-needed qualifications and could potentially end up directly or indirectly harming someone.

NCAR This Year

I haven't been timing myself in anything resembling a race or time trial since my last surgery. It has been a somewhat rocky road since then. After a while, I just got scared to see where I was. Like many athletes and former athletes, I still put way too much pressure on myself. I went back and forth on attempting a timed workout today. Usually,when I'm aiming for something harder, I go by arbitrary time, not a particular course or distance. When I didn't feel too terrible during my first few steps, I thought, "What the heck, why not do NCAR?" Things started out OK, but by the time I hit the base of the big road, I was already struggling with thoughts of quitting. Fatigue doesn't help a person dig deep, and I'm out of practice. That's for sure. Long hill story short, I got to the top in like 20:55, but then I remembered my start time was off by a little bit since I accidentally started my watch at the sidewalk instead of the parking lot of the little library on Table Mesa. It's amazing how much you can forget in a 20-minute grunt up a big hill. The reality is that I probably ran about what I did last year, closer to 20:50, which kind of sucks, but isn't the worst thing ever. I got it done, so I guess that's something.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Flat and Fabulous

 In the years since I first intended to write this, I’ve discovered how hard it is to chronicle the difficulties of someone I greatly admire and respect. I'll start with an apology to Ann (not her real name) for taking so long -- I just didn't know how to explain what she went through while properly acknowledging her and her experiences. Having not gone through what she has, I worried that I couldn’t convey her story in a way that honors her in the way she deserves.

More than artistic perfection, Ann deserves a story.

We met many years ago in Boulder. Ann has since moved, but we used to do some training together as part of a local running group. Anyone who’s met her would agree that she is one of the sweetest ladies in the world. She's smart, funny, adorable, and talented in all kinds of ways. This isn't excessive flattery; it's the truth.

Ann approached me after she had already gone through a bilateral mastectomy to remove cancer. Going through the diagnosis and facing the removal of both breasts was difficult enough, but what occurred afterward compounded Ann’s grave challenges in a way familiar to far too many women.

Endless reconstructive surgery cycle

Life doesn’t go back to normal after breast-cancer treatment ends. The most common treatments are partial or total mastectomy, radiation or chemotherapy, then hormonal treatment, followed by reconstructive surgery, a cosmetic procedure designed to bring back the shape of the breast. Technically, the procedure is not considered cosmetic since the surgery is reconstructive, but it serves no functional purpose. It's important to note that these operations don't bring back sensation to the area, though sometimes sensation eventually returns with or without the procedure. Despite this, most women aren’t encouraged to stay flat.

For Ann, the whole process seemed more like a financial benefit to cosmetic surgeons than a way to restore health and confidence, or to reconnect her to her sense of femininity. Whenever part of the body is surgically removed, a physical and emotional adjustment period always follows. Some in the medical field seem to prey on this vulnerability and rarely offer breast cancer patients emotional support in lieu of a mammoplasty.

Reconstructive surgery is on the rise, but is it because women truly want it or because they are being pushed into it after mastectomies? With cosmetic procedures now normalized and on the rise almost to the point of pathology, it’s hard to pinpoint all the sources of pressure women experience when it comes to their looks.

Ann's reconstruction failed, and the implants had to be removed. After two additional operations within a year of the mastectomy itself, bringing the total number of surgical procedures on that part of her body to five, others tried to encourage her to undergo yet more operations.

"Unfortunately,” Ann says now, “although it does give you something to cling to as a silver lining through the initial shock of it all, the reality should be better presented to women that the surgeons really cannot or choose not to have a favorable outcome with one or two surgeries.” Instead, it turns into a cycle of "just one more," with patients seduced into continually thinking that they are approaching, but have not yet gained, personal perfection. “I am adjusting to a life with no breasts and additional scarring and damage that could have been avoided entirely,” Ann says.

What's shocking is that women endure these things after they have already battled cancer. Some undergo an unreasonable number of surgeries in order to try to restore their breasts. Ann told me about one lady she encountered in a Facebook support group who had experienced 36 such operations. Ann had endured enough with four and decided to "stop the assault" on her body and her health so she could attempt to return to a better, healthier life. While grateful today to be cancer-free, she was left with cut pectoral muscles that scarred and took time to heal. Her recovery has been ongoing.

Another sexually predatory business

Like the multitude of other money-driven businesses that prey on women's self-image to stay in operation -- the beauty industry in general, for example -- cosmetic surgery and, specifically, breast cancer reconstruction facilities take advantage of women in vulnerable positions who are facing a life-threatening illness. At $10K plus per surgery, as of a few years ago, it really shouldn't take more than a few tries to get it right, and if it does, each one shouldn't cost as much as feeding a small family for a year. Understandably, most women want to feel more normal after going through such a harrowing ordeal and are pressured by society to look a certain way, so they are willing to endure multiple surgeries in an attempt to improve their self-image and feel more like they did before their mastectomies. And this is the carrot dangled in front of them, the "silver lining" as Ann put it, that they will feel better about themselves, more beautiful and womanly after they subject themselves to these expensive surgeries. Who wouldn't want to feel better after facing cancer?

"I am disgusted by the entire 'breast cancer industry,' which I am certain prays upon most women's self-image issues,” Ann says. “This in turn propels them to continue with reconstruction attempts to achieve what should be possible with fewer surgeries."

But the push for women to have breast augmentation surgery started before the procedure was used for reconstruction. Fans of the Swindled podcast or those who remember Dow Corning’s big legal battle in the 1990s, will recall how as early as the 1960s and 1970s, millions of women had already undergone breast augmentation surgery. There has been a long history of deception by companies promoting the use of breast implants, often with no adequate testing. Using implants for reconstruction gave breast implant companies a larger market.

One of the worst frauds related to breast implants was committed by the company PIP, Poly Implants Prosthetics, founded in 1991 by a French man, Jean-Claude Mas, who was really more of a salesman than anything. He aggressively pressured companies to purchase his inadequate breast implant products, which ruptured at double the rate of others on the market and contained his own recipe of silicone, not the medical-grade version he insisted it was. Even PIP’s saline implants were faulty. Cutting corners to make a profit was more important than women’s health, apparently. Imagine going through cancer, having reconstructive surgery, and later facing additional illness caused by ruptured implants and cheap, industrial-grade silicone leaking into your body. This happened to more than one woman. Other women developed autoimmune disorders, fatigue, painful lumps, and even cancer.

Mas is no longer producing implants, and PIP was shut down in 2010. But this doesn’t mean all breast implants are now safe. In 2017, the FDA gave a warning about certain types of implants being linked to a very low but increased risk of developing BIA-ALCL, a rare type of cancer. It should be noted that a French woman died after developing this type of cancer after her PIP implants leaked.The FDA’s warning is not to say implants cause this type of cancer, but there is an increased risk of developing it when certain types of implants are used.

The fundamental problem is that most doctors don’t go into detail about all the risks involved with reconstructive surgeries.

 Complications and contradictions

While Ann has been able to look at her entire situation as a learning experience and has adapted phenomenally well as a member of the "flat and fabulous" club, some women aren't prepared to face outside pressure to have surgery so soon after battling cancer. Obviously, these kinds of decisions are difficult, personal, and depend on more than a simple desire to look a certain way. There is much to consider before undergoing any operation, but women battling breast cancer are pressured to make a decision right away.

"They want to do the surgeries quickly when you are diagnosed,” Ann says. “You are just in such a state of shock trying to process it all that you accept what one or two doctors tell you without probing more." In Ann's case, given her small, athletic stature, she was never a good candidate for reconstructive surgery, but she wasn't told this by her first surgeon.

The surgeries resulted in other complications, ones that eventually led Ann to do her own research and eventually demand the implants be removed. According to Ann, the first error was that, even though her first plastic surgeon knew she was an athlete and runner, he should not have cut her pectoral muscles to put the implants underneath. Plastic surgeons need to consider each patient individually. A good surgeon will look at the implant size, the implant type and shape, the patient's body type, and how much breast tissue is available to cover the implant. In Ann's case, being a petite, post-menopausal runner with a low BMI made her a poor candidate for breast reconstruction surgery, period.

Initially, she asked her surgeon to remove the implants, stitch her muscles back down, and put the implants on top due to severe animation deformity. Animation deformity is a complication of breast reconstruction associated with subpectoral implants. Contraction of the pectoral muscle can lead to disfigurement caused by implant displacement. What reconstruction surgeons don't often tell their patients is that women who have battled breast cancer are far more susceptible to this condition. Around 78% of them struggle with this issue.

Ann’s exit from “the system” and reflections

After everything she had already endured, Ann didn't expect her surgeon to do a "totally lopsided, shitty job" that would force her to have to come back for more corrective surgeries. At this point, she switched to a different surgeon whom she liked and respected more, however, he was the first one to tell her honestly that she was a poor candidate for reconstruction all along. Regarding her first surgeon, she said he made her cry every time she left an appointment, but she looked at the experience as a way to learn how to stand up for herself.

She allowed the second surgeon to try to fix what the first had done, but, unfortunately, she developed complications from the surgery due to the lack of fat and circulation in the area. This meant she had to have another operation. Her surgeon was going to try to go ahead with the repair, but shortly before the operation, she changed her mind and decided to just have the implants removed without the added steps of trying to fix anything.

Ann had to be very firm about it. "I was realistic that, and he agreed, one more surgery probably would not do it, and I said I was done and wanted to get on with my life,” she says. “Unfortunately, the damage had already been done."

After all of this, Ann has gradually been able to feel more comfortable in her skin and confident with her body image, and, over the years, the emotions around her experience have changed. "You can google what other ‘flat’ women look like,” Ann says, “and you will see that the biggest problem for me is that those visible folds are not fat or extra skin that can be removed -- they are my pectoral muscles that were cut from the sternal attachments and then stitched back down in a straight line.”

This was the only way the procedure could be once the lower attachments were removed. Also, she says, all of the extra surgeries dissolved any remaining fat she had. But she had made a positive decision for her health. Although she wishes she had done it sooner, she has adjusted. She states, "I do not wear prosthetics--do not even own a pocket bra and refuse. To me it seems to further support the entire industry. I want to be proud of my body the way it truly is!"

None of this touches on Ann’s financial consequences, which have been staggering.

Ann's message to others is to avoid rushing into any surgery. She suggests, "Do the research first or at least look for surgeons with a track record of less versus more surgeries. There is definitely a miscarriage going on here. In my opinion, too many women are being subjected to too many surgeries."


 Thank you to the individuals who helped me with this post including friends who read it and those who helped with editing. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Strange Days

I've seen a lot of posts lately about managing eating disorders during a crisis. I have to admit, it's a topic I've wanted to address but haven't really known how. See, there is no right or perfect way to respond to what's happening because there are so many unknowns. In any stressful situation, personal or global, a tendency to revert to past behaviors can occur. There's no doubt about that, so it helps to remember the tools we always have available to avoid an actual relapse.

What many of us are seeking now is comfort, distraction, and some kind of reassurance that things will be OK or at least better, eventually, but without any fantasy that what's going on is trivial. I mean, people are dying, for fuck's sake, so it's perfectly fine and natural to be scared, however, there's a way to address fear without letting it consume you. Self-regulation in times of chaos can be a challenge, but one way to address that is to work on being in the moment. Focus on the little things, small daily tasks that make you feel more at ease, more productive, or more connected to others.

The unfortunate reality is that I don't know what to suggest that hasn't already been suggested. I don't have any magic words of wisdom. I can tell you that it's important to reach out if you feel like you are struggling. It's important to ease off on being self-critical. Ignore ridiculous comments and memes on social media that poke fun at weight gain during this time. It's fine if your body changes or appears to change (remember how distorted perception can be under stress); it's not a given it will. It's fine to do a little more self-soothing, comfort eating, and napping through all of this. Stress is not easy to navigate, so do your best to be aware of your responses without being critical of them. Acknowledge the voices in your head without feeling like you have to act in any extreme way, just notice the tone of what's floating about in your mind.

The only reason why I'm writing at all is to say that those of us who have struggled are really in this together. It is hard enough for anyone facing this added stress to manage it well, but, for those in recovery, there are even more pressures and difficulties. What I've noticed in some support groups is that people are quick to respond with anger or judgment, most likely a sign that we are all being too hard on ourselves and others. What we all need to remember is that everyone reacts differently to this kind of situation. Whether you use humor, are more of a helper, like to isolate, or feel better leaning on social media, it's not wrong. Keep doing what you need in order to survive and maintain good mental health.

I want to add that if anyone is really feeling overwhelmed and can't cope there are resources for you listed below:

Suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255  USA
Eating disorder help: and hotline: (800) 931-2237

Though everyone seems to be saying it, stay safe. Just like any unpleasant, dark storm, this uncertain period will pass. All we can do is make an effort to follow the guidelines for safety and respect others in our community by taking appropriate precautions. And if anyone needs, I'm available. Leave a comment or drop a note at if you need some support. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Twelve's A Charm

Thursday marked my twelfth foot surgery, this one on my left foot. I've had more on that side than my right, but both feet are far from normal. I'm oddly optimistic about this one. I think I got used to a certain level of pain with both feet and sort of accepted discomfort would be a big part of my life. Maybe it doesn't have to be, though, or maybe it doesn't have to be so unyielding and intense.

On paper, this procedure looked far more complicated and invasive than others, but it's actually not. The joint repair I had years ago, when described to me, both sounded like and was a fairly elaborate surgery with a long recovery time, and that one I experienced twice. This one, despite shaving the bone down in multiple areas and removing more scar tissue (man, my body is GOOD at creating that shit!) will probably be my quickest recovery to date. The incisions were all through the top of my foot, and it was done in-office.

I'm through the worst of it already. Thursday night wouldn't have been as bad as it was had I been able to take the pain meds I was given as prescribed. The first one I took really didn't sit well, so I was too afraid to take another one. After a mostly miserable night with sharp, stabbing pangs in my foot, I took some Aleve, which took the edge off on Friday morning, and since then, I have been able to take 1/4 a pain pill at a time without issue, except for my ulcer acting up a little. I really haven't taken much in terms of pain medication, which is a good sign, and, after getting the OK from my doctor, I can already limp around the house without crutches or a scooter.

Leading into the surgery, things hadn't been going all that well. A lot of mid-life crisis type questions have been floating through my head the last couple of months. Like many others, I've faced a lot of loss in the past few years -- some loss I was OK with and others hit hard -- and I wonder why I'm here. I can't say I've been very happy. When I ran well, I felt like I had purpose, maybe not a great one, but it was something that made me feel like I was doing the right thing, even though I was often miserable. These days, I don't feel like I fit in well in any area of my life. Volunteering at the vet clinic comes close, but it also leaves me with the realization that I missed out on a lot throughout my life. And when it hurt to stand, volunteering and pretty much anything else seemed like a chore.

For now, I'm working on a novel without knowing why. Sometimes I look at it and think it's a disaster, just complete shit, and other times I dig out an old passage that intrigues me. I have the story in my head; I just haven't been good about getting it fully out. It's bogged down by a lot of mundane blah blah and makes me realize that I never had a natural ability to write well. Few dyslexics do, but, for whatever reason, I keep plugging away at it.

Regarding the surgery, it won't fix everything. I knew that going into it, but it should help with a good portion of the pain I was experiencing. There are other issues going on, but this will at least address something. It won't cure my overall unhappiness or fix my tendency to be compulsive, but it will reduce some of the pain.

In the meantime, I set a few reading and writing goals for the year. Considering what a slow reader I am, I'm off to a decent start with the number of books checked off my list. My goal is half that of an avid reader I admire. Of the four I read in January, the only book I would strongly recommend is NOS4A2, unless you're curious about brain function and illness, in which case "Brain on Fire" was interesting.

When I seem down like this, it's because I am. It's not that I don't have happy moments; I do. It's just that, for me, life isn't really about being constantly happy. For some of us who are prone to depression, sometimes even having goals or doing small things can be difficult, so setting a few goals is actually a step up from where I was a few months ago. I'm not completely out of the woods, but I'm closer to feeling some kind of hope than I was. And being depressed doesn't mean I don't laugh or have fun. I do, especially listening to podcasts like Small Town Murder and Crime in Sports. But, I'll say it again. Depression is something I've struggled with that's separate from recovery. The two can be connected, but they are not really the same issue.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Carrot Cake

I'm taking a short break from my daily activities. I don't want to say my daily grind because that would imply I'm productive with my nose to the grindstone, which is a painful sounding idiom if taken literally. If searching for and almost finding the perfect carrot cake in Boulder and its surroundings after January 19th but before January 21st were a job, however, I might be able to say that. Let's just say that nothing beats homemade, so far, but I have tried some good contenders over the years. And I put a lot of effort into my yearly search.

Yesterday, I was on a mission. I wanted to find a piece of carrot cake, a good one, not one made from some kind of boxed cake mix with limp carrot bits added to it and then topped with thin, overly sugary frosting. Homemade wasn't happening, so I wanted the next best thing. It took some doing, but I found a pretty good piece of carrot cake at Pizza Colore. After reading a Yelp review about the cake, I called to see if they were still baking the dessert in house. Sure enough, they were, so after a decent morning with an OK run and the rest of the day at work, I scooted over to the pizza place a few blocks away, purchased the cake slice (I think he gave me an extra large piece after I confessed it was my birthday), and headed back to my car.

As I strolled down the mall and then up a few blocks, I took note of my foot, which seemed oddly less painful than it had been in recent days. As is often the case, the minute I noted this, I felt a stabbing pain shoot across the top of my foot. On I limped, determined to keep my attention on the cake slice in the plastic container held tightly in my hands. The pain subsided and then came back and so on until I finally reached my car and sat behind the wheel.

Back home, I made a birthday wish and then ate the cake, which was delicious. My only complaints were that the frosting was a little too sweet to my taste and the cake lacked raisins. I'm not a huge raisin fan, but they are perfect in carrot cake.

What I'm really doing here is taking a break from writing by writing. I haven't been adding much to this project I'm working on, but I'm very, very slowly plodding forward. It's an absolute mess of 20,000 words or so at this point, but I'm starting to get some kind of outline going. It is such a weird process, and I wish I had a better idea of what I want this thing to be. It will need a lot of work before I can even get to the fun part of rewriting. Can you write a novel by adding just a few words a day? We'll find out.

Creating a novel or story is a lot like making a cake. In order to get to the fun and fancy decorating, you have to first get through all the grunt work: bake the cakes, even them out, put a base frosting on, stack them, and then add a thicker layer of frosting before you can start really decorating it. In writing, you have to create some kind of outline, get the story out, rework it to the point where it's not a complete mess, rewrite it, and then go through and get creative with it.

Next week I'm scheduled for surgery. It's going to be interesting because I'm still taking care of my mom and working. It sounds like it's a pretty simple procedure. I don't know the recovery time, but I'm hoping it's not long. I've been able to run and even ran a harder workout without too much pain. According to my doctor, running won't hurt anything. It's just nerve stuff. I'm conflicted about the best way to handle this, but my doctor seems to think the surgery will work.

It seems quite a few families on our street aren't doing very well lately. One neighbor recently passed away. Another is in the hospital. My mom is still recovering. My other neighbor's daughter just had foot surgery, and my other neighbor recently had hip surgery. That's a lot of unpleasantness in this small neck of the woods. We are all hoping for brighter days soon.

Oh, and you know that saying about kill your darlings? Sometimes you have to kill someone else's little darlings, and that's even harder when the writing is good. The last couple of months seem to be all about letting go, something I've struggled with all my life.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Looking Back (again)

Actually, I don't want to reflect too much on this past year. There were some pretty shitty and disappointing parts and some not so bad ones. After crawling out of one of my more serious depressions recently, I'm not in the mood to think too hard about anything right now. The one message I keep coming back to is to try to avoid getting caught up in other people's bullshit and lean on those who actually care, if you are able, of course, because for some of us, reaching out isn't easy.

Something I keep bumping up against lately is this idea that our minds create pain. On some level, this is true, as there's a huge psychological component to pain. But, man, every fucking time I run into something I know is real, physically real, all the talk floating around about how just using your mind to magically get rid of discomfort trips me the fuck up and I'm left trying to push through pain that I shouldn't.

As I head into 2020 possibly facing my 12th foot procedure (I don't want to call it surgery because it's not major surgery) I'm oddly optimistic, sort of. I mean, I ran some pretty embarrassing races this summer in terms of time, but most of them were improvements on what I've run in recent years, and I did so on an increasingly sore foot. See, I have a sharp bone that's poking up on the top of my left foot. The nerve that runs over it is crying out every time I press up onto my toes. Sometimes it hurts just sitting around, too. There are some other issues going on in the joints near my ankle, but, chances are, shaving that bone down will reduce the pain by a fuckload. The diagnostic cortisone shot I got this week seems to indicate this will be the case.

In other news, I got to watch a leg amputation at the vet clinic. It's a long surgery, so I only stayed about two hours into things, just to the point where the broken dog's leg was freed and everything looked good for a healthy recovery for the pup.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy 2020. I'm off to do some writing, something I gave up for far too long. Yeah, I suck at that, too, but at least it will occupy my melancholy mind for a while.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What Weirdness is This?

It seems around every corner lately, something bizarre is lurking.

November 18th was one of the strangest days I have had in a long time. After an unsuccessful attempt at rescuing a bird, I called someone who ended up being less qualified than I am to handle the injured blue jay. My mom was on a walk when she found the injured bird. I took over after she dropped it off and continued on her walk. The whole rescue attempt was upsetting, from the event that landed the feathered creature in my hands to the way the person who came to get the bird handled things, and the poor thing apparently died on the way to the wildlife rehabilitation center.

As my mom was walking back home after climbing part way up NCAR road, a large piece of construction paper that was left by workers at one house at the top of the street blew into her and knocked her over. A very nice young gentleman who witnesses her fall brought her home, and I took her to the ER, where we discovered that she had broken her patella. In true "mama" fashion, she is already getting around very well after some tough weeks. I'm juggling several jobs, but my main concern is her, of course.

During her healing, the extreme snowstorm hit. I was house sitting, so I ended up running from one house to another on the days my car was stuck. I also helped a few neighbors with various tasks, but I was treated to some "play it forward" rewards with help shoveling the sidewalks at each place. Then Thanksgiving arrived with relatives and more cold weather. My mom wasn't able to attend the dinner out that my brother planned, but the rest of us went to the Chop House. Despite there being some differing opinions about politics that I missed later, things went smoothly at the restaurant.

The nicest parts of the holiday break were chatting with my brother and his wife about everything from online harassment to politics, doing some volunteer work, and seeing my mom make progress in her recovery. The not so nice parts were the actual online harassment, dealing with the extreme weather, and finding out some things about relatives that I wish I didn't know. I don't want to go into the online crap in this post, so I just updated this older one. Both my brother and his wife are lawyers, but, more than that, they are incredibly thoughtful, kind individuals with a lot of good advice to offer. We were able to deal with at least some of the public posts this individual made that included me and got those removed without having to exert much effort. It's easy when an individual keeps lying and violating the terms of service of various websites. We haven't decided how to handle things directly, yet, if at all.

Online ugliness aside, a conversation that will stick with me is one I had with my sister-in-law about impostor syndrome, something we both suffer from. Even when I was running at my best, I had this internal worry going on in a bad way that I wasn't good enough. I can't say that I envy people who boast about their abilities or can fake it till they make it, but I wish I had a little more self-confidence. Then there are the types who declare themselves experts, advocates, or professionals in a certain area without having any real qualifications. I don't envy them at all. My problem is that I can't even trust the qualifications I do have. Some people just put themselves in a position of authority, and nobody really questions it.

In many arenas, it's not that big a deal, but it can be problematic when someone who is ill equipped to deal with certain health or mental health situations tries to offer advice as an expert. This can potentially end up being damaging. And yet just look at Twitter and Instagram, full of these types. Obviously, there are qualified individuals voicing opinions, but what I don't quite understand is how some who are clearly not experts have a louder voice than those who are. I think a lot of who gets heard comes down to popularity. If you are in with the it crowd, people listen. That's unfortunate when so many thoughtful individuals are pushed aside.

It's really too bad, especially in this climate of all the #metoo type campaigns that more people who have relatable experiences or who have solutions are being edged out of the conversation by people who simply want to be heard. The voices of those who actually have something to say get drown out, and people who might not have personal experience or qualifications step up in their place. It's  so strange to watch and very unfortunate, especially because this should be a time when we are all heard. Instead, it's the same old same old of the noisiest getting attention. I have complained about this kind of issue before.

A post on Twitter by a friend of mine who's an author suggested that she recently found her passion for writing again. Like with running or anything in life, really, what we do can sometimes become a chore and lose its fun and meaning. People who write usually do so because they are motivated by passion or have a message they want to share. Finding inspiration isn’t the same as asking others for actual content, unless it’s a collaborative effort and contributors are all acknowledged. Taking other people's ideas and writing about them as your own probably won't produce the best work. Sometimes the way around writer's block or any other kind of barrier is to give into it and wait until the fire is reignited. Writing should be about more than simply doing it for the sake of doing it. There's way too much of that kind of product out there already.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

New Project Ideas

I'm sort of brainstorming, but I'm thinking about starting some kind of podcast or platform for women to share their stories and talk about recovery, especially in running. Though I can't quite put my finger on it, I feel like something's missing. There needs to be more of a focus on action, recovery, and tangible acts to fix women's running. I have ideas about what this project could be, but I'm interested in networking with others.

If you or anyone you know is interested in learning more or being a part of this, please contact me at:

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Just How Broken Are Things?

Don't ever, ever, EVER, ever, EVER, ever, eeeeevvvveeerrrr, ever, ever EVER, ever go to Let's run if you want to avoid misogyny, hate, and comments that are even worse than those found on YouTube. Good god, that place is a cesspit of toxic waste. Online misogyny has increased in general over the last few years, but on Let's Run it's extraordinarily virulent.

When I recently saw one thread on Let’s Run about Mary Cain's allegations against her former coach, I was disgusted and felt physically sick. It's clear that the majority of individuals commenting are not exactly psychologically astute, but what's most disturbing isn't just seeing a complete lack of awareness of any given subject plastered all over a particular forum. The intentionally degrading and vicious comments are what's so shocking. Despite an obvious lack of knowledge about development, health, and quite a long list of other topics, it's surprising how vocal these arrogant individuals are when it comes to pretending to know what's best for other people, especially young women.

As I expected, people coming forward suggesting the solution to avoiding any kind of body image or eating issue is simply to resist being attached to a number on the scale opened the gate for others to misinterpret the bigger picture, which is that some women can have a positive experience and stay healthy throughout a running career. And heaven knows that's a message we all need right now. However, people look at what was meant to be a few words of hope and support (I think) and twisted it to make it seem like the real message is really that those who don't rise above it all are weak, which some of us expected, but not to this extent.There has always been an incorrect idea floating around that any addiction or mental illness can be overcome by will power. I’m just surprised how many people still believe this myth.

I've been saying it for a long time now, but these are not just women's problems. As much as some will point the finger at what they consider weak females, more than one in ten men suffer from depression in the United States, and male athletes are even more prone to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. In 2014, the American College Health Association found that, in their survey of about twenty thousand student-athletes, 21 percent of males reported feeling depressed, and 31 percent of them felt anxious. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, suicide is the third most common cause of death among student-athletes.

Some of the ugliest comments I saw on the running forum suggested a young girl is a wuss for crying or struggling, you know, being human. They insist Mary should have just lost the weight her coach wanted her to, despite the fact that she was already physically breaking down. Imagine what a lack of proper nutrition does to the brain and how that affects emotions. But even if there were no link to emotions and being properly rested and fed, why would anyone call a young girl weak for reacting to a shitty situation with frustration and tears? It seems quite normal to me. How else was her teenage self supposed to act?

I'm not going to fully address the negative comments Mary's teammate may have said. If it's true, whoever said it has to live with herself and her insensitive attitude. If true, it just shows how ill-equipped people are when it comes to handling someone else's pain and suffering.

My first year in college, I had a mini meltdown before a big workout when I felt frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with my teammates in our warm-up run. Fortunately, three of them stopped and comforted me. That’s all it took. My coach talked to me when we got to the track, and the support I received allowed me to put my frustration aside and get to work. That kind of compassion and understanding doesn’t happen in a toxic environment. Instead, the one struggling is left to internalize all her bad experiences, which only makes things worse.

The bottom line is that mental illness needs to be taken more seriously. We will never fix the problems related to abusive coaches in the running community if there's a refusal to take into consideration the mental health of athletes as well, and that applies to all sports. The two issues go hand in hand.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Skimming The Surface

With so many individuals offering advice and expressing opinions about how to fix what's wrong with the running world, one thing is very, very clear to me. We need WAY more qualified people with a background in psychology stepping in here.

I'm not going to point fingers because I see most people mean well, but holy shitballs. If I see one more blog post, comment, or tweet suggesting the answer is simply that women should choose to be above it all, I might explode.

I have already gone over these issues on my blog, but to recap:

1. Eating disorders, body image problems, depression, and any other mental illness ARE NOT A CHOICE.

2. Mental illness is NOT any kind of weakness.

3. This is not just a women's issue.

4. Telling the world, "Well, that wasn't MY experience!" isn't all that helpful, unless you have some compassion for those struggling, a deeper understanding of of the underlying problems, and some legit advice about how things can be better.

5. Mary Cain was a child (as many of us were) when she was facing abuse by a coach, but psychological abuse happens to people of all ages.

6. This is NOT a debate about body composition, and that's a topic that should be addressed by the athlete and her team that hopefully includes a qualified coach, a licensed therapist, someone in the medical field, family, and/or anyone who truly wants her overall well-being to be a main focus. Weight or body composition is not a taboo topic, but some things are not your business.

7. The female triad is an incomplete measure of overall health and well-being or lack thereof. Many people struggle and don't lose a period, and this measure completely discounts men who have similar issues.

This might be one of my shortest blog posts, but I hope I'm making myself clear.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Why Is It So Hard

Most of us can sense when something is wrong, even if it's not something we can really put a finger on or explain to the fullest, some kind of moral dumbfounding. Then there are times when it's quite clear why something is wrong. To me, what I'm about to address is the latter, but oddly, at least one person doesn't think so.

I was about to take a break from blogging about the mess that is the running world right now, but then I stumbled upon the following tweet:

Race Weight

People addressed the issue from both sides, and that should have been enough. Points were made all around, and even though we didn't all agree, the air was cleared. Oh, but that's never enough. The original poster wanted to point out just how wrong anyone who took an opposing stance was. But the reason why some of us aren't laughing isn't because we're too dumb to get highbrow humor; it's because some shit just ain't funny.

Obviously, the tweet was meant as a joke. In the past, this person has made other "jokes" that reinforce diet culture and unhealthy relationships with food, especially around the holidays. It's the reason why I stopped paying much attention to him on social media a few years back, but this tweet made me take it one step further and unfollow him. I've mentioned others whom I have unfollowed for this same reason in previous blog posts. I admit, my tolerance for that kind of rhetoric is low. Their idea of funny is to use outdated ideas that suggest having to earn your food or beer or having to burn it off. In the eating disorder recovery community, these are the exact kinds of concepts that are triggering and outright dangerous to promote.

As much as "triggering" has become a bad word, it should be acknowledged because in certain communities, those who become triggered can resort to self-harm and even risk death. That aside, jokes about weight, overeating, and using food as a reward or punishment aren't funny. If you're aiming for comedy, at least try a new, more creative routine.

I considered not publishing this, but fuck it. I'm tired of people and their holier than thou attitudes disregarding people I care about in an effort to be funny or relevant.

My responses are in red. This blog post is what prompted me:

When news broke recently about the fat shaming and related psychological abuse that was suffered by members of the Nike Oregon Project and by members of past British Olympic track and field teams at the hands of their coaches, I, like so many others, found the alleged behavior unconscionable. But I also found it absurd. It's unconscionable, yes, and if it weren't so widespread, it might also be absurd. The fact is, it happens a lot at all levels of the sport and is a very real and very painful experience for those who are being shamed. Worse, some individuals, no matter their weight, begin to believe the abuser's words. 
Let’s be clear: Fat shaming any athlete (or nonathlete, for that matter) is unconscionable. But fat shaming an elite athlete whose body is finely tuned to perform at the very highest level is both unconscionable and kind of ridiculous.  But it happens, and these kinds of problems are happening now, in real time, to many athletes and non-athletes.
I’ve always had an absurdist sense of humor. So, it wasn’t long after I read these disturbing reports that I found myself imagining the absurd scenario of a thickheaded coach trying to distance himself from the likes of Alberto Salazar and Charles van Commenee by announcing that he only fat-shamed athletes who actually were fat. It amused me to picture a coach so utterly clueless about what is actually wrong about fat shaming that he believed his behavior (fat shaming only truly fat athletes) was materially different from the behavior described in the reports (fat shaming finely tuned elite athletes). OK, we get he likes the word absurd, but, again, this wasn't an isolated incidence. These kinds of problems have been occurring for years at all levels in the sport, in other sports, and in general. It isn't just one or two coaches, and the actual weight of the athlete or size isn't the problem. Psychological and emotional abuse is the deeper issue. This happens to athletes of all sizes. Fat is used by abusive individuals in these cases as a general insult like any other, specifically to put down and humiliate a person or to attempt to gain control over her by emotionally abusing her. Getting into why using fat as an insult is wrong is a whole other can of worms I'm sidestepping for now, but it's a related topic.
Now, it so happens that I myself am an endurance coach and writer who has written extensively on the topic of performance weight management. In consideration of this fact, I got it into my head to post a tweet in the character of a thickheaded coach who thought the crime that the accused coaches committed was not fat shaming per se but fat-shaming athletes who weren’t fat. So I did, and let’s just say that the joke was not well received. Clearly, and it's not the fault of the audience. Women and men of all sizes and shapes experience fat shaming. I find little humor in the idea that a coach did an oopsie and fat shamed the wrong body type. 
As the pile-on continued (it was hardly a pile-on, more of a debate with some in support of bad humor and others not), I thought about what went wrong, and I came to the conclusion that my chief mistake was to assume that my Twitter followers had sufficient context to appreciate the joke as it was intended. (He didn't think hard enough) On further reflection, I decided the same joke probably would have gotten a few more laughs and a little less criticism if it were delivered as a set piece in a television show or film, where a good comedic actor delivered the very same words I used in my tweet in a manner that invited viewers to laugh at his thick-headedness. (I doubt that very much.) But that’s neither here nor there, because I am not a screenwriter, I’m an endurance coach with a Twitter account. I'm 100 percent sure I'm not the only one cringing at this.
I don’t think the context issue was the only factor involved in the joke’s flat landing, however. Rather, I think the negativity directed at me has been fueled in part by an ongoing backlash against our focus on body weight in endurance sports. As the author of the book Racing Weight, I am keenly aware that a growing contingent within the endurance community believes that, misfired jokes notwithstanding, the topic of performance weight management ought to be more or less taboo. Long before I posted my tweet, it was suggested to me, more than once, that I did something wrong in writing Racing Weight. I never saw it until after the "joke" nosedived, but OK. I think most people who said anything have more of a problem with the title, not the content.
The specific accusation is that in discussing weight management as a tool for performance, folks like me contribute to an unhealthy fixation on weight in endurance sports that motivates some coaches to fat-shame and psychologically abuse athletes and causes some athletes to develop issues such as eating disorders and body dysmorphia even without a coach’s overt influence. The solution, therefore, is to avoid discussing performance weight management except for the sake of actively discourage athletes from focusing on it. That wasn't the specific accusation. Again, the issue isn't weight so much as the abuse. There are all kinds of resources available that help athletes eat and train optimally. There are ways to discuss these kinds of concerns without joking, belittling, or triggering others. Rachael Steil offers some great resources on her blog. 
The intent here is unimpeachable. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and over-fixation on body weight are huge problems in endurance sports, and anyone in a position to do something to fix them has an obligation to chip in. As one who is very much in such a position, I try hard to do my part. (Apparently not hard enough) I think the Twitter critics who read my tweet literally (Nope, missed the point again) —who actually think I fat-shame some athletes (eye roll)—would be surprised to see how I counsel the athletes I coach on these matters. I never encourage athletes to lose weight, I preach caution to all of those who set their own goal to lose weight, and I talk to them a lot more about the importance of having a healthy relationship with food than I do about the mechanics of shedding body fat. I’m proud to say I’ve brought a few athletes back from very dark places through these means. I don't think the majority of people arguing were suggesting he actually fat shames anyone, more that this kind of post is inconsiderate, especially considering the current climate in the running world. A good comedian not only reads the room but doesn't need several paragraphs to explain the "joke". And do some research. Fat shaming doesn't just hurt the one being shamed. It hurts those who watch it. This "joke" is one step removed. In other words, this tweet that he's so desperately trying to defend is potentially hurting others merely by suggestion. 

And that doesn't mean anyone is taking it literally. It's the idea of it, the suggestion that gets in a person's head. It is offensive. That might be hard for people to understand, but one doesn't have to take a statement like that literally to be affected by it. And because it has been the norm for so long for "fat" to be the brunt of jokes, we often don't recognize how damaging it can be to make offhanded comments like that. In his head, it was funny and absurd, but to write it that way out of context shows insensitivity. 
Having said all of this, I must also say that I disagree with those who believe that the topic of performance weight management ought to be taboo, for two reasons. The first is that, in my experience, forbidding an open, rational discussion of the topic only drives athletes’ efforts to manage their weight underground, which greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll go about it the wrong way. It’s sort of like the argument that is often made for teaching sexual education in school. Folks are going to do it regardless of whether you tell them not to, so why not talk openly about how to do it and how not to do it? Um, who said it's taboo? Obviously, there are sensible ways to address weight that don't include body shaming, using terms that could be considered offensive, or ridiculing. The condescending way in which this guy addresses his audience is amusing considering the backlash he received. That takes some balls.
The second reason I deem the racing weight backlash misguided is that, as a general principle, I believe that truth is the only road to effective solutions for all problems. I think we do athletes a disservice when we assume they can’t handle the truth. A small minority of athletes, those who have a history of disordered eating or who are at high risk for developing an eating disorder, do need to be steered away from giving any mind space to their weight and body shape. (he just said it's a huge problem in endurance sports, but now only a few people are at risk?)I half-jokingly tell the athletes I coach who belong to this minority, “My one and only prescription for you is to spend 80 percent less time thinking about food.” But I think it’s a mistake to establish general rules for the discussion of performance weight management based on the vulnerabilities of this small group. No, all kinds of nope here. It is most definitely not a small minority who have a history of eating disorders or are at risk. Even as far back as 2004, studies showed that athletes are up to three times more likely to develop an eating disorder. I may have cited this before, but here are some statistics on athletes and eating disorders. And apparently this guy is magic and can see beforehand which athlete is susceptible to developing an eating disorder and which isn't. Pretty impressive... if it were only true. 

Again, good coaches look at how to train different body types differently. What's absurd is thinking several paragraphs of blah blah counters a tweet that offended many people for good reason. Instead of a simple apology or taking it down or just leaving it be after people offered opinions, he wrote this? I mean, really. Stop putting the blame on those who have lived it and are upset by this kind of poorly thought out comment.
 Instead, in my view, the “standard” approach to dealing with performance weight management should be based on facts and truth. And here are the most relevant truths, as I see them:
1. Body weight and body composition can affect endurance performance both positively and negatively. Again, I don't think anyone was arguing otherwise. 
2. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or dangerous about actively managing one’s weight and body composition in the pursuit of better performance. Jesus. Talk about missing the point. No, there's not, unless a coach bullies an athlete to the point where she self harms. And that's what the topic of conversation has been lately. 
3. There are safe, healthy, and effective ways to pursue one’s optimal racing weight and there are unsafe, unhealthy, and ineffective ways. Nobody said otherwise. 
4. The desire to actively pursue optimal racing weight should come from the individual athlete and should never come from a coach or anyone else. Racing weight shouldn't be the goal. Performance and health should be. 
5. Athletes who express such a desire should receive (ideally professional) guidance that is evidence-based and that is informed every bit as much by psychological concerns as by physical ones. For example, it should be drilled into athletes’ heads that optimal racing weight is determined functionally (i.e., by how the athlete feels and performs), not by the scale, and least of all by arbitrary numerical goals. Agree, but then one has to question why even call it race weight? 
6. Athletes who have expressed a goal to actively pursue their racing weight (well, I hope nobody does, because after just explaining how athletes should focus on performance, we are back focusing on weight as a goal.) and who start heading in a bad direction (And how does one know when they start?), either physically or psychologically, despite qualified guidance, should be supported in letting go of weight management as a performance tool and encouraged to focus instead on some of the many other available tools. . .
. . . like performance-enhancing drugs!  <----- Well, at least that was funny.
Ah, Lord help me.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

While I'm at It

As more and more women in the athletic community come forward with stories of harassment and abuse at the hands of coaches and trainers, there are some comments about weight and female runners that show not everyone understands the issues. One gentleman on Twitter suggested the East African runners must be laughing at us, but I doubt that. I had a former coach, one I admire and trust, who let me in on a little secret that eating disorders and coaching abuses are more widespread than people think. Look at the scandal that took place in Uganda when female athletes accused male coaches of sexual abuse years ago. It's ridiculous to think that women from other countries would be immune to the same pressures and negative comments, just like they're not immune to the pressures of doping, as we have seen.

In many instances, the conversation keeps turning to looks or weight, specifically the appropriate racing weight of female athletes, but this movement is about uncovering abuses of power. Besides, there are healthy ways to discuss weight that don’t include calling someone fat, obsessing about a number on the scale, or judging a body on appearance.

Seeing other people come forward and share their stories after Mary Cain opened up about her experiences running with Alberto Salazar and then leaving the program has naturally stirred up some memories of my own.

Something Mary said really resonated with me when she talked about the times she considered going back to her coach. She Tweeted, "I wanted closure, wanted an apology for never helping me when I was cutting, and in my own, sad, never-fully healed heart, wanted Alberto to still take me back. I still loved him. Because when we let people emotionally break us, we crave more than anything their very approval."

Wanting approval from those who can't or won't offer it has been a theme in my life since I can remember, but it was especially true regarding those who offered intermittent attention, including my high school coach. I know I'm not alone when I say the athlete-coach relationship is a complicated one. This applies to many areas of life. Damn, we all just want to fit in and be heard and acknowledged and feel some love now and then. Life is fucking hard. It helps to have support.

There's no doubt that I walked into adulthood loaded with baggage, damaged, broken, and emotionally scarred. This led to severe depression. It was, in addition to genetics and brain chemistry, directly related to the chaos I faced in my childhood. Regarding the abusers from my childhood, there was never any closure. I had to smile and pretend the abuse never happened. I certainly never got an apology for the actions of bullies and those who took advantage of me, and that left me vulnerable to repeating the cycle as I got older.

When I look at my high school coach, I carried around a lot of anger and resentment years after graduating and leaving his program, but I did go back for a summer of training and racing in college. And I got more hurt in the end and was called a head case. It's only more recently that I have let all of that go. In my book, I see how guarded I was writing about my experiences, taking a lot of the blame, but there were things he said that I can never forget. And yet, people are rarely all bad. In his case, he did a lot for me. In many ways, he helped me achieve some of my loftiest goals in life, but it was often at the expense of my mental and physical health. It wasn't entirely his fault, but he did a lot of damage. And I'm not alone in that, either. Several other runners on my team suffered, and it wasn't just the women who did.

I mentioned previously that some of the people who once denied the prevalence of eating disorders at the professional level are now encouraging women to come forward and tell their stories or retell them. While I see we are pretty much on the same side and basically want the same changes, I wouldn't really want to share my story again in the presence (virtual or otherwise) of someone who basically shot me down. It's not that this one person in particular was outright mean to me, more that her tone was condescending, accusatory, even. People who take a haughty stance have never impressed me, but in certain situations, they can be intimidating. Unfortunately, I didn't address it at the time. See a pattern here?

It wasn't until later that I realized how much this interaction affected me. I was caught off guard in the moment and had trouble rebounding after sharing what I went through led to an entire discussion about how those with eating disorders couldn't last at the professional level and how you just don't see it blah blah something about statistics being exaggerated, which is not true, but, again, it threw me to the point where I didn't know how to respond. This may seem trivial, but I felt very much like I was being discounted and put down in a way, like you have to be strong and above it all to compete as a pro, something I clearly failed at accomplishing, even though I was at a pro level for a while, just not able to accept money for my efforts. Anyway, because I didn't stand up and call bullshit at the time, it left me taking indirect swipes at this person years later, something I'm not real proud of. At the same time, I just don't want to engage with her, at all.

That happens a lot with individuals who have been bullied. An upsetting incident happens, and we go numb at the time, only to have a reaction later on, some kind of delayed stress response. So while I will share these kinds of thoughts here, I have no desire to confront the person who did this, privately or publicly. On social media, you're not only in a conversation with one person. Their followers are sure to jump in, and that can get ugly, at least from what I've seen. In the end, I'm glad there are people speaking out and supporting those who come forward.

My own resentment and story aside, what's unreal to me is that, despite the tremendous support those who were abused are receiving, some people are still defending a rotten coach.

A good coach doesn't fat or body shame his (or her) athletes.

A good coach finds the appropriate training program for each athlete, and that will vary based on a lot of things, including body type. The solution to an athlete's success isn't "lose more weight," it's "how can we get you to train and run optimally given where you are right now?"

A good coach creates and environment of camaraderie and support and doesn't pit one athlete against another.

A good coach trains different body types differently, in case that wasn't clear.

A good coach communicates well with his athletes and anyone involved in her (or his) training.

A good coach supports his athlete and encourages her to use outside support in the form of dietitians, therapists, strength coaches, and physical therapists.

A good coach doesn't encourage cheating.

A good coach looks at what can be changed in order to see improvements instead of placing all the blame on the athlete.

Lastly, someone pointed me to this rubbish, a calculator that, according the the RunBundle website, helps you find your ideal racing weight, but then adds: "Finally, although the majority of elite athletes we've tested do fit - or come close to fitting - the suggested weight ranges, there are anomalies. So, even if you're aiming for the podium, don't let an awkward Stillman result upset you." Too fucking late, assholes. Too fucking late. This is a dangerous and unhelpful "tool" and suggests nothing, a big fat zero about health and running capability. It doesn't take into consideration age, build, overall strength, flexibility, and, of course, mental health. It actually calculated my racing weight as a number that I was when I was anorexic, about the sickest I have been while still running. So fuck this bullshit, and fuck this company for putting out a potentially damaging gadget.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

I'll Make This Quick

Last night, I watched a "reporter", Ken Goe, who wrote a very one-sided, ass-kissing "article" on Salazar's response to Mary Cain's accusations against her former coach, get into a Twitter spat with Kara Goucher, who handled the situation with a lot more sophistication than her sparring partner. He suggested she was copping out and not stepping up because she didn't contact him to be interviewed, but Surprise! Potential interviewees aren't supposed to be the one to contact reporters for the work the reporter is doing. That's his job, not Kara's, and she has been very vocal about being willing to talk to people.

Twitter drama aside, people are calling this guy out for producing a piece of journalism that's biased, but there are more disturbing details in what he wrote, some subtle and some more blatant. What's clear is that this guy didn't take the time to do any real reporting; he just concocted a fluff piece basically claiming Salazar is good, now, for all my fellow Crime in Sports followers. However, Salazar's period of grace is long gone, and is trajectory is going to continue spiraling down, I believe.

Right from the start, Ken gets it wrong. Really, the first sentence is garbage:

Under fire from women runners for his training methodology, former Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar issued a statement Tuesday to explain his actions and apologize.

1. It's not just women runners (female runners) who are upset. Men are just as concerned, and plenty of people outside of the running community are, too, including Kamala Harris, who made a statement on Twitter in support of Cain.

2. Salazar never actually successfully explained his actions or apologized.

What Salazar does instead of apologizing is a classic narcissistic move. He states, "If I was callous or insensitive, I apologize," which puts the burden on the victim. "I'm sorry you felt that way" is quite different from "I'm sorry I hurt you." What many of us feel like he should have said is, "I'm sorry I failed you as a coach and created a toxic environment that encouraged the decline of your mental and physical health to the point where you were self-harming and unable to run to your potential," but that would probably be too much to ask.

Though Ken mentions three former NOP athletes who have also come forward to corroborate what Mary is saying, his article has only one brief quote by one of them, a single sentence. The rest of the piece is several paragraphs of back and forth, one long quote by Salazar, one paragraph defending him. And repeat.

The biggest issue I have with this kind of writing is that it discounts the victim. Instead of using her words, Ken downplays her experience by suggesting her career trailed off due to injury. No, it didn't. It trailed off because she was struggling and her coach and those around her didn't or weren't able to come to her aid. This was not her fault. Ken also didn't include the voice of other athletes who witnessed the way Salazar treated his athletes and have come forward.

The bottom line is that this is trash reporting. I could go on and on, but there's no real need. I think people see what kind of bullshit this is, and while the author eventually apologized to Kara for being an asshole on Twitter, he has a lot more to apologize for.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Very Old Problem Rears Its Ugly Head

There has been a lot of talk on social media about Mary Cain recently since she courageously opened up about her experiences as an athlete with Salazar and NOP. Cain joined Salazar's program in 2013 when she was just a teenager. Though she's more of a standout in terms of her performance and will always be remembered as one of the best young female track athletes ever, her backstory is like many others.

The unrelenting attention on her weight and the excessive pressure that Mary experienced is nothing new. Unfortunately, we live in a society with a mad focus on body, especially women's bodies. In the sports world, it's even more extreme, though men are not immune to negative comments by coaches and peers. In Mary's case, though, she, a young girl, was surrounded by older men associated with the program and a coach who was, according to her and several members of her team, overly critical and overly focused on her weight at the expense of her performance, her health, and her overall well-being. 

What's upsetting to see in the aftermath of all of this is that some people on social media have turned the conversation into a debate about what a healthy racing weight is for her. Guess what? It's none of your fucking business. This is one problem of many and reinforces warped ideas around the female athlete's body. It's not up to anyone else to decide what's healthy, and comparing her or any young athlete to other adult runners who are leaner or heavier serves zero purpose, none. Who knows what methods people use to stay lean and fit, and with all the doping allegations being dropped, I'm sure a lot of "healthy" lean examples aren't quite. What one person weighs has no relevance to what's healthy for someone else.

This is her life, her health, and her body. Her rules now. Nobody else's. If a runner goes from running well and feeling good to a cycle of missed periods, broken bones, and poor health, there's clearly something wrong, and weight loss isn't the answer to an improvement in performance at that point.

Another upsetting result of Mary coming forward are the people who feel it necessary to shift the focus to another cause. This is selfish and also doesn't solve this particular issue. There are plenty of topics that deserve their time in the spotlight, but don't kick Mary to the side in order to step in her place. Take your turn at the appropriate time.

Since Mary spoke out, Salazar and Nike have both made statements that basically get into victim blaming territory, but even if you look at one of Salazar's more recent comments, he outs himself as a coach who absolutely failed his athlete. He responded to her allegations by stating,  “Mary at times struggled to find and maintain her ideal performance and training weight." As her coach, if that was the case, it was his responsibility to make sure his athlete wasn't struggling in any area. An athlete's weight shouldn't be a constant struggle to maintain if she's healthy and supported in the right ways.  

More importantly, though, his focus should have been on her overall heath, her longevity in the sport, and her training, not an arbitrary number on the scale that reflects nothing about her strength and wellness. She was a teenager. He was supposed to protect her, not burden her and then break her.  

I know people mean well, but the focus on Mary right now shouldn't be on a comeback or even running, really. She already established herself as one of the greatest on the track. Why do people insist she do more? If she wants it, the opportunity is there, but her message is about SO much more. This is about the abuse of power and the enormous pressures heaped on very young athletes. This is about a broken system that has been a mess for many, many years. 

What I hope people realize with this door opening is that Mary is one of many runners who had to try to survive in an unhealthy environment. When I first started telling my story, I was generally supported, especially by friends and family, but still faced people, not just men, who denied the prevalence of these kinds of issues in the running world or suggested that people like me were weak or trying to cheat in some way. It's odd to see some of these same people act as advocates now. I'm sure that's a good thing, but I can honestly say it's strange to see.

Some people insist that if it didn't happen to them, it must not be that big a problem. I and others have faced put downs and digs about mental health and eating disorders and a lot of speculation about our current state of health based on our pasts, which puts even more attention where it shouldn't be, on our bodies. It's equally upsetting that people who are healthy and lean are pushed into a corner of feeling like they have to defend themselves against accusations. This is all the result of attention being focused in all the wrong areas. 

But things are changing. There will always be opportunists who jump on situations like this in order to step out on center stage, and we may never reach a point where women will have the freedom to be whatever size is comfortable and healthy for them without judgment. More and more, though, I see genuine concern and care from the masses and people coming forward asking how they can help, how they can make a difference and support a change.  

In a way, this has become the runners version of a #MeToo movement, and it's heartbreaking to see so many athletes come forward with stories of their own. Think of all the high school, college, and club programs that promote or promoted the same kind of unhealthy environment Mary endured. Little comments coaches make can have long-lasting effects. But it's not just the running world that's flawed. Our society is deeply in need of repair when it comes to how people view women and our bodies. It's not just women, either, but there's a relentless focus on the female body that's terribly unhealthy. Salazar and the people at Nike are products of our society, but that's no excuse. What they have done to so many athletes is awful, and the way they are handling the backlash now is inexcusable. 

If the allegations are so troubling,  as Nike suggested, why not simply state that an investigation will take place? What, exactly, is Nike implying with that little jab about Mary not speaking out at the time and possibly contemplating a return to her coach this year? She already stated why she stayed silent until now, and LOTS of people go back to or feel compelled to go back to abusive situations.

This has been an emotional time for may of us who have lived with the same kinds of pressures, both internal and external. But now is the perfect time to talk about change and how to make it safer for young athletes to achieve their goals while maintaining health, both emotional and physical. 

In times of distress, they say to look to the helpers. In my own case, when I'm feeling down or disturbed about events in the running world, I look to people like Diane Israel, Bobby McGee, Rachael Steil, Melody Fairchild, Kara Goucher, the Roots Running Project, and my many mentors and friends for guidance. Speaking of looking to people for leadership, a friend and incredible inspiration to me and many others in the running community and in general, Tonia, wrote a spot-on blog post about the trouble with youth sports. Please take the time to read it. Things need to change. 

I don't know if it's the case or people were merely speculating, but I'm glad to know others agree that the sole solution to fixing this mess is not simply hiring female coaches. That might help to an extent, but female coaches can be just as abusive. This is a systemic and even a cultural issue, and it will take a lot of effort to fix it. 

What's important, in addition to providing more education around the topic, is offering every athlete access to a group of individuals not necessarily associated with their team that, in addition to the coach, would include a sports psychologist, a dietitian, some kind of advocate, and a physical therapist. This might be impossible financially for small programs, but even having someone from the outside who would be responsible for checking in on athletes periodically would be better than nothing. There just needs to be a way for young athletes to have the freedom to speak up about their experiences with their coaches in a safe environment.

As I hinted at earlier, this has stirred up a lot of emotions for me, so I'm sure I'm not addressing everything I would like and maybe addressing things in a way that's not completely coherent. Still, I felt the need to put at least some thoughts down.

Because I wish I could help more but don't exactly know how, I will just reiterate what others have been saying. I'm here if anyone needs an ear or some support. I've been through it, and I want others to know that they are not alone. 

While Mary's message is about more than eating issues, I'm still going to offer a free copy of my eating disorder recovery handbook to anyone interested through the end of January 2020. 
The coupon code is:
and the link is: